Matter and Particles -What is Real?
We have seen in the previous posts on Matter and on Mass that both are really only understandable in terms of power, forces and energies, that the seemingly solid world of our immediate bodily senses consists of a complex of such forces, held together in the physical by a combination of the four forces (electrical, magnetic, strong and weak nuclear), such that it present itself out of the universal field for out sense perception, and held apart from other similar complexes (bodies) by the dynamic polarity of gravity working through the inherent resistance (both to resist other force complexes and to draw others towards it) or mass.
It would seem that physics could just concern itself with pure powers, forces and energies, as the seemingly solid matter has effectively disappeared as an independent entity, other than to designate a power-force complex. However, the human mind has a materialistic bias because our current perception and awareness is very much linked to our sense experiences and impressions. We started with seemingly solid objects, and we continue, even as the solidity recedes as disturbingly as the Cheshire Cat, to cling to the notion of materiality, that is, of things and objects, or bodies by means of the concept of particles. These are sub-units of greater particles or atoms. In both cases, these particles are only identifiable as a formula, or a movement or change in location, or as a blip or sound on an instrument. And yet, the mind persists in considering these as somehow material, as things, rather than as again, complexes, albeit infinitesimal, of forces and energies. This would not affect the laws of physics themselves at all, but be more in accord with what physics is telling us is actually the case.
Just as physics talks of the macro and quantum level, we could say that there is a physical level of reality that is at one level material, that is, with seemingly solid objects, or at least power complexes that strongly resist any change or penetration by other such bodies, and another level where this materiality cannot present itself to the human bodily senses, except indirectly. We could term this level the physical which exists on its own as the underlying foundation for the material world, but is also part and parcel of the very existence of a material world. This also means that the human body is similarly a complex of forces and energies more or less resistant to outer influences working both at the macro and quantum levels.
Since man is both subject and object, these physical power complexes act on him to produce sense-impressions, mediated by the bodily sense organs. Such impressions can be tracked in terms of their effects at the human macro-physical level, through the sense organ, via the nerves and chemical reactions to the brain.
The argument of material science is that the resultant perceptions in the human mind (leaving aside what that is exactly, whether reducible to brain or not, as mass is not reducible to weight) are simply the effects of sense-impressions mediated through physical and bio-chemical processes, themselves a part of the physical or sense world. There is no reality beyond the sense world; any such claim is to claim a non-sense reality, which is deemed “nonsense,” a word that has taken on a pejorative meaning, rather than being simply a factual description.
Thus, the results of sense-impressions are considered as secondary or subjective in nature. For example, the leaf is not green as such, but provides a sense-impression based on atomic and sub-atomic motions producing vibrational frequencies of particles (acting as particles or waves) that then generate a physical-chemical response in the sense organ, delivered to the brain, which results in the perception (where exactly is not clear) of “green.” “Green” is seen as a subjective quality not inherent in the object, leaf, but an effect in man of a sense-experience triggered by an object, or body. It is the object that is considered real, as well as the physical properties that give rise to a certain sense-impression, not, however, the perception. Mind (usually reduced to brain) is considered a resultant of the physical world (usually reduced to matter).
This presumption leads logically to the position that the perception itself is not real, and only a representation of the mind, and may or may not be a faithful reproduction or reflection of the object perceived. Science is then left with the use of commonly agreed perceptions as a way to describe what is real – most people who see leaves see the same thing and given a choice of colors, will choose green as its color. The logic of the materialist position, given its presumption, is that nothing exists except the motion of particles, and everything else is a product of effect of such motions. If this is the case, then perceptions and conceptions have no independent reality. They are dependent on the random and rather chance whirlings of particles. All ideas are the epi-phenomena of particle collisions and interactions and essentially illusions, except to the extent that we have a shared representation of reality; but that is all it is, a shared illusion that we agree to deem reality if only to avoid the logical sentence that we are all seeing illusions, dreamers caught in the same dream.
If ideas are not real in themselves, then so are values only relative and dependent on group consensus – a kind of democracy of what constitutes good and what bad (community values), changeable and variable over time and place. One value is inherently as good as another, though we use beliefs to try to impose a deemed set of values as being higher and governing. There is really no liberty of choice, but only a strange, contradictory random determinism.
As Steiner in a 1890 essay on Atomism concluded,
…If there is nothing in the real world except swinging atoms, then there cannot be any true objective ideas and ideals. For when I conceive an idea, I can ask myself, what does it mean outside of my consciousness? — Nothing more than a movement of my brain molecules. Because my brain molecules at that moment swing one way or another, my brain gives me the illusion of some idea. All reality in the world then is considered as movement, everything else is empty fog, result of some movement.
If this way of thinking were correct, then I would have to tell myself: man is nothing more than a mass of swinging molecules. That is the only thing in him that has reality. If I have a great idea and pursue it to its origin, I will find some kind of movement. Let us say I plan a good deed. I only can do that if a mass of molecules in my brain feels like executing a certain movement. In such a case, is there still any value in “good” or “evil”? I can’t do anything except what results from the movement of my brain molecules.
The problem here lies in the presumption that the only reality is sense-based, that the concept green is not part of sense-reality but only an effect on the mind/in the brain. This can be looked at differently.
Let’s use an analogy: Someone sends a message using letters (particles) in various combinations to someone. He has a sense experience or impression, and a perception of letters in combination and also experiences the thought that is the same or very similar to that created by the author. Can I say that the thought was simply created as a result or effect of the letter combinations? That is not true, as the same or similar thought was and is also in the mind of the author. The letter combinations reproduced the thought or idea and are just the transmitters of the thought. The thought is in the mind of the author and then embedded in the letter combinations, but is not the letter combinations.
We could argue that the particles and waves are simply the transmitters or conveyers of the color which is contained in the leaf as a reality, then reciprocally invoked in the preceiver through the generation by the color green of certain vibrations or frequencies. So qualities become properties of bodies.
We must assume “green” as a quality of bodies. This “green” causes a vibration of 589 billion vibrations per second, this vibration comes to the optic nerve which is so constructed that it knows: when 589 billion vibrations arrive, they can only come from a green surface. (Steiner)
Thus, equally, all mental representations derived from sense experience are the result of ideas already in nature herself. Sense experience is necessary, however, for us to access these ideas or thoughts of nature (language of nature). Without our engagement of nature, these would remain as potential, dormant in nature. However, it is not enough to have a sense experience; this experience must be meaningful, that is,it must involve a mind and consciousness that can comprehend the thought or idea hidden in nature’s sense code (sense-data).
If mind is nothing but a series of physical and chemical reactions in the brain based on sense experience, can such a “mind” comprehend anything on its own? We know from history and from the study of mind that thoughts can come independent of sense experience, in deep mediation, the self shut off from the outside world. The more we cut ourselves off from sense experience, the more we find ourselves confronted with thoughts and ideas.
The two givens of man are sense experience and the inner experience of thinking. These are real. Can the same be said for particles? For modern physics, all qualities are due to motion. Thus, what itself moves, the particles, do not have qualities. But, by the earlier logic, it is the qualities that must be pre-existing, so if particles have no quality, they are not real. What is real is motion, the dynamic, and its interaction with other qualities (excitation).
Can I make such an assumption about moving atoms? If motion occurs, there must be something that moves. By what do I recognize motion? Only by seeing that the bodies change their place in space. But what I see before me are bodies with all qualities of color, etc.
So what does the physicist want to explain? Let us say color. He says: it is motion. What moves? A colorless body. Or, he wants to explain warmth. He again says: it is motion. What moves? A body without warmth. In short: if we explain all qualities of bodies by motion, we finally have to assume that the moving objects have no qualities, as all qualities originate in motion.
To recapitulate. The physicist explains all sense-perceivable, all sense-perceptible qualities by motion. So, what moves cannot yet have qualities. But what has no qualities cannot move at all. Therefore, the atom assumed by physicists is a thing that dissolves into nothing if judged sharply.
So, the whole way of explanation falls. We must ascribe to color, warmth, sounds, etc., the same reality as to motion. With this, we have refuted the physicists, and have proved the objective reality of the world of phenomena and of ideas. (Steiner)